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Oakland artist Madeline Kenney bounds toward the unknown on her third album, Sucker's Lunch, expanding on the idea of what a love song could be – a little more cautious than exuberant, more nuanced than blazing devotion. Sonically, the album expands upon Kenney’s earlier, guitar-driven sound – a definitive step forward from an artist adept at communicating universal sentiments in a voice unmistakably her own.
To help realize her vision, Kenney once again enlisted Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack, previous collaborators and friends. Together, the trio carefully constructed the songs in a few compact sessions in Oakland, San Francisco, and Durham. Stack and Wasner’s rhythm section trace circles around Kenney’s off-kilter guitar, with verdant curls of synths, saxophone, and complex harmonies. Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner lends his distinctive tenor to lead single “Sucker.” The resulting songs are immediate and deeply moving, somehow feeling familiar while they defy expectations at every turn.
“I’m not interested in something easy or immediately apparent,” Kenney says. “My experience writing these songs wasn’t easy, it was painful and difficult. I was terrified of falling in love, and as much as I’d like to write a sticky sweet song for someone, it doesn’t come naturally to me. Instead I wanted to explore the tiny moments; sitting alone in my room guessing what the other person was thinking, spiraling into a maze of logical reasons to bail and finding my way out again. When I spoke with friends about the theme of the ‘idiot’, it became apparent that everyone understood that feeling and was relieved to hear it echoed in someone else.”
Thematically, Sucker's Lunch sees Kenney soberly contrasting the risks and rewards of falling in love, eventually deciding to dive headfirst into her own foolishness and relish in the unknowing. The tracks explore new love from every angle – “Picture of You” is a soundtrack- worthy lamentation of never truly knowing what someone has been through (“growing up is so hard, I don’t know why”) while tender vulnerability shines on “Tell You Everything” (“When your eyes say ‘we’ve had a day, love’, I get to fall in”). Kenney audibly loses her mind on “Double Hearted,” where the playful arrangement and lyrics spark a firestorm of heartache and wild abandon. “Cut the Real” pairs synth drones with syncopated lyrics to work through a depressive mind state, and the near-devotional “White Window Light” accepts uncertainty as a beautiful gift.
“There’s so much love in it,” Wasner says of Sucker’s Lunch. “It’s the story of someone figuring out how to be a person in the world, and how to be with another person without losing oneself.” Sucker's Lunch shines in its ability to speak the strange, ambiguous, impossible truth – nothing less than a balanced meal for the wise fool in us all.